Syria: Informal Interactive Dialogue
This afternoon (16 December), Security Council members will hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on Syria. (IIDs are informal closed meetings that allow for the participation of non-Council members. There are no meeting records of IIDs, and they are not included in the Council’s monthly programme of work.) This meeting will be the third IID on Syria since resolution 2642 of 12 July renewed the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for six months, with a further extension of an additional six months (that is, until 10 July 2023), requiring a separate resolution confirming this extension.
Russia requested the meeting, which is taking place less than one month after the most recent IID on Syria held on 21 November. (For background, see our 21 November What’s in Blue story). This timing contrasts with the meeting cycle set out in resolution 2642, which encouraged Security Council members to convene an IID every two months “with the participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”.
At today’s IID, Council members are expected to review the implementation of resolution 2642 and assess the humanitarian situation in light of the upcoming vote on the extension of the cross-border humanitarian mechanism. It appears that Russia wanted to hold this additional IID before the Council decides on the extension, as the current authorisation expires on 10 January 2023.
Today’s IID will feature a briefing by Tareq Talahma, OCHA’s Director for Operations and Advocacy ad interim. Two other UN officials—Muhannad Ibrahim Ahmed Hadi, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, and El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria—will also be on hand to respond to questions from Council members. Following the briefing, Syria will have the opportunity to make a brief intervention. Council members are then expected to make short statements, which may include specific questions for the briefers. Interested regional parties (Iran, Lebanon, and Türkiye) and donors (Canada, Germany, Sweden, and the EU) will also make short interventions. Following the briefings and statements, the UN officials will have the opportunity to respond to the questions posed to them.
This meeting follows the release on 9 December of the Secretary-General’s special report on the humanitarian needs in Syria (S/2022/933), which the Council requested in resolution 2642. The report highlights the acute humanitarian challenges faced by the Syrian people in the face of harsh winter, especially in terms of food security, sanitation, early recovery and livelihood, education, and protection. It notes that the humanitarian situation in Syria has been exacerbated by the ongoing conflict along front lines, deteriorating socio-economic conditions, limited access to basic services, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the cholera outbreak across the country. The report also outlines the progress achieved on cross-line operations (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) as well as on early recovery projects. While noting the importance of cross-line aid, the report concludes that “a halt to cross-border deliveries [through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border] in the midst of winter months would risk leaving millions of Syrians without the aid needed to endure harsh weather conditions”.
The briefers are likely to further expand on the details of the Secretary-General’s special report and provide an update on the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria, both cross-line and cross-border. They might refer to the most recent cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid conducted on 30 November, which was the fourth monthly convoy since the adoption of Council resolution 2642. This was also the ninth cross-line delivery since the adoption of resolution 2585 of 9 July 2021. These deliveries involved a total of 134 truckloads of supplies, with each mission carrying supplies sufficient for between 43,000 and 54,000 people.
In the most recent Council briefing on political and humanitarian issues in Syria, which took place on 29 November, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths noted that a surge is expected in the number of people needing humanitarian assistance from 14.6 million in 2022, to over 15 million in 2023—the highest number of people in need since the start of the conflict. He further added that “the recent hostilities in the north-west and north-east of Syria have had a detrimental impact on civilian lives and critical civilian infrastructure”. Griffiths said that as a result of such hostilities, civilians have fled their homes in both the Aleppo and Al-Hasakeh governorates and some humanitarian services had to be temporarily suspended.
During today’s meeting, several Council members are expected to inquire about progress in the delivery of aid through the cross-border mechanism, as well as the status of early recovery projects. Council members may ask technical questions about the cross-border mechanism, including the logistics involved in the delivery process and how to meet the specific needs of populations during the winter months.
The briefers are expected to apprise the participating member states of efforts to address the cholera outbreak in Syria. OCHA’s recent cholera outbreak situation report, issued on 10 December, notes that between 25 August and 3 December, 56,879 suspected cases have been reported, including 98 deaths attributed to the disease.
This meeting comes at a crucial time as less than one month remains before the expiry of resolution 2642. Council members and other member states in their interventions are expected to emphasise the growing humanitarian needs in the country and highlight the need to renew the cross-border mechanism.
There are differences of view on the Syrian humanitarian file. Most Council members emphasise the importance of aid delivery through both cross-line and cross-border modalities in Syria, while underscoring that the cross-border aid mechanism is essential to saving lives in the country. In contrast, China and Russia believe that cross-border deliveries are an extraordinary measure that undermines Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted by enhanced cross-line assistance as soon as possible. China and Russia are also critical of unilateral coercive measures on Syria and outline their negative impact on humanitarian assistance.
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria seems to have enhanced recognition among Council members of the need to expand the scope of the early recovery projects. It is also possible that Council members may arrive at a consensus on the renewal of the cross-border mechanism before the end of the year.
The Council’s next formal meeting on Syria will be the briefing scheduled for 21 December on political and humanitarian issues in the country.